Credit checks and credit cards for first-timers

credit cards
Do you remember the first time...
"It's possible for a customer with a 999 score to be declined if they don't fit the profile the lender is looking for" Matt Sanders, Gocompare.com
  • | by Emily Bater

Getting your first credit card is one of life's earliest financial milestones.

You might need one to pay for a holiday, make a big purchase or to simply have for an emergency, but before you start researching the best card for your needs you should check that your credit rating is healthy.

Most people couldn't tell you what shape their credit record is in if asked, and many don't know how it affects their chances of getting a credit card, loan or mortgage.

Having a good credit record will give you access to some of the more attractive deals on the marketplace, but how do you find out your credit score? And what does it really mean?

Check your rating

"Your credit file is one of the most important data files attached to you and everyone should have a good idea of what theirs looks like at any time," said Gocompare.com's money expert Matt Sanders.

"An understanding of your credit file could be the difference between a good or bad interest rate, or even being accepted or declined."

Before you even think about applying for credit, check your profile - each application you make will be recorded on your file and too many of these in a short space of time could put lenders off.

You can get a copy of your credit file from the credit reference bureaus, Equifax, Experian or Callcredit, or from third-party agencies. Agencies and files vary, but it may cost as little as £2. 

What does my credit score mean?

Credit scores are used to inform consumers how healthy their credit is, and that's about it. But there is no universal 'credit blacklist' - each lender has its own criteria and will score you accordingly. 

So, even if you have an excellent credit score, you may find yourself being declined for certain offers.

"It's possible for a customer with a 999 score to be declined if they don't fit the profile the lender is looking for," said Matt.

Not all credit checks are the same - some will look for missed payments over six months, others will look over two years and some don't bother at all.

"Obviously, the better the product, the more specific the criteria will be," said Matt.

Improve your rating

If your biggest financial commitment to date is your phone contract, then there's no need to worry - showing you can pay back a monthly bill is important, so a contract requiring a direct debit will help your score.

There are lots of ways to improve your credit rating, but as we live in a topsy-turvy world, one of the best ways is to actually get a credit card - makes sense, eh?

If you decide to get a credit card, do a modest amount of spending on it every month and make sure that you have set up a direct debit to pay the minimum balance, so you don't miss any repayments. However, only treat this as a safety net. As credit builder cards often have high repayment rates, it's important that you pay the balance off in full every month so you don't spend a fortune on interest.

Finding the one

It might not always seem like it, but lenders actually want to give you a credit card. Sometimes, they'll even try to tempt you with special offers and deals.

These are often very handy, but do your sums and make sure that the offers make sense, particularly with rewards and cashback cards.

Be proactive

Even if you aren't looking to get credit, making sure your credit file is ship-shape is always a good idea. Check your details are correct and notify the agency if there are any errors. The credit agency is legally required to review any issues.

"Tracked changes to credit reports can be good indicator of fraud, which is why some agencies offer fraud alerts with their products," said Matt.